FCC Issues NPRM Despite Recent TCPA Changes
On May 6, 2016, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Through this NPRM, the FCC “seek(s) to balance the importance of collecting debt owed to the United States and the consumer protections inherent in the TCPA.” In order to accomplish this goal, this NPRM allows for commentary and proposals on how the FCC will restrict the number and duration of calls to collect debts owed to or guaranteed by the United States.
In short, the proposed amendments to the TCPA will allow any entity to send prerecorded messages and dial both wireless and landline numbers with an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) without the prior express consent of the called party, if the purpose of the call is to solely collect a debt owed to, or guaranteed by, the US.
Previously, the TCPA prohibited the dialing of wireless numbers with an ATDS for any purpose without the prior express consent of the called party.
Throughout the NPRM, the FCC outlines and seeks comments on the following issues:
- What types of calls are covered in the exemption?
- Are debt servicing calls covered?
- What is the definition of “servicing”? Does this include calls informing debtors how to alter payments in any way—amount, structure, payment date, etc.?
- What do debts “owed to or guaranteed by the United States” entail? Should debts insured by the United States be covered? Should the FCC use the definition of “debt” found in the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996?
- Are there any circumstances where a party other than the federal government obtains a financial interest in a debt that might cause the debt to no longer be considered “owed to or guaranteed by the United States”?
- Who can be called? Only the debtor? What about wrong party contacts?
- Who may place calls? Only the creditor or another entity placing calls on the creditor’s behalf?
The FCC proposes to restrict the number of dial attempts for debt collection and servicing calls to 3 attempts per month. This limitation applies to calls regardless of whether the consumer answers the phone as well as to prerecorded messages delivered to wireless numbers. In regards to text messages, the FCC seeks comment on whether a limitation to the length of a text message should be implemented. The FCC also proposes that consumers should have the right to opt-out of future debt collection and servicing calls.
Other questions the FCC seeks comment on include:
- Should calls be restricted to the hours of 8AM-9PM at the called party’s location?
- Are there other restrictions under federal or state law that should be taken into consideration when implementing these regulations?
- Are calls covered by these amendments subject to other debt collection laws, such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or any laws adopted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?
- Should callers delivering prerecorded messages be required to include an interactive voice- and/or key-press activated opt-out mechanism?
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